The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, goes online October 1, and reports indicate that several hundred thousand students have already submitted their information. This is very good news, as it gives the college decision-makers ample time to make financial aid offers along with admissions acceptances, and also puts students in line to be eligible for the maximum available amount of support.
If you have not started your FAFSA yet, here are some of the key completion steps you will need to make so you don’t miss out:
• Get an FSA ID: Both students and parents of dependent students need an FSA ID to log onto the FAFSA site and electronically sign the application.
• Gather your information: Have materials you will need readily available before you start, so you won’t lose momentum each time you need a new piece of data. Gather Social Security numbers, driver’s license information, and income/investment information. You can have your 2016 federal tax returns on hand for reference purposes, but the IRS Data Retrieval Tool is working once again.
• Complete parent and student information: Both the student and the parent or parents of dependent students must provide financial information. Be very sure you understand who can be listed as your parent for financial aid purposes.
• Supply college names: You will be asked which schools are to receive your financial information. Have your list of up to ten colleges available, and determine whether your state requires them to be in any particular order. If you have more than ten colleges, you can go back later and update your list.
• Review your SAR: After your information is submitted you will receive a Student Aid Report, which lists your anticipated financial aid award and your Expected Family Contribution. Review this carefully to look for any errors.
• Receive your financial aid award letters: Your financial information is reported to the colleges on your list to be used in making their final aid determinations. You will be sent a separate award package from each college. If your financial situation has changed dramatically this year, contact each college directly and provide relevant documentation.
Some common missteps that could delay or impact the amount of financial aid you receive:
• Not completing an application at all: Don’t put yourself out of the running by not even applying. You can’t win it if you’re not in it.
• Proofing errors: Check your application carefully before sending it in. The name you use must exactly match the one on file with the Social Security Administration.
• Missing a deadline: There are several types of financial aid deadlines. Miss one and you could miss out.
• Paying a fee: Although you may want to pay someone to help you complete your application, there is no fee to file a FAFSA. Only use https://fafsa.gov/.
• Failure to sign: Use your FSA ID to electronically sign your FAFSA before submitting it online.